Losing Faith

Jewish Light Editorial

Does the world care about religious persecution? Sometimes we wonder.

While much of the attention of the world’s media has been riveted to the ongoing conflict in Israel and Gaza, the self-designated Islamic State in Syria and Iraq (ISIS) has renewed its ghastly March of Death through the war-torn Middle East.

As the world seems determined to chastise Israel’s every move during Operation Protective Edge, Hamas’ charter and intentions — quite patently to destroy the religiously diverse and democratic State of Israel and replace it with a radical Islamist regime — are very often ignored or relegated to deep background by those covering the conflict.

Similarly, ISIS, which caught the entire world off-guard with its lightning-fast takeover of at least one-third of Iraq — largely unimpeded by the country’s fledgling military — not only has already compiled a brutal record of death and destruction, but seeks to impose fundamentalist Islamist ambitions similar to those of Hamas across the Middle East.

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ISIS has contempt for every brand of religious belief different from its own, whether Christian, Jewish or even Muslim. In Mosul, Iraq (known as Ninevah in the Hebrew Bible), it has served notice on the ancient Christian community that it must convert to jihadist Islam; pay exorbitant taxes to support the ISIS regime; or be killed unless they flee.

Does this sound historically familiar? It should – these options are virtually the same ones given to the Jews of Spain by King Ferdinand in 1492 with his Edict of Expulsion the very day that Columbus set sail for the New World: Convert to Catholicism, leave the country or face execution for heresy by being burned at the stake in the auto-da-fé (act of faith).

At least 45 Christian facilities have been destroyed by the radical invaders. Among the many Christian groups losing key churches, museums and other historical locales are the Syriac Catholic Church, Syriac Orthodox Church and Evangelical Presbyterian Church.

The extent of ISIS’ religious hegemony is not only of historical proportions; it makes no sense from any reasonable perspective. Here’s an example: ISIS thugs blew up the ancient Tomb of the Prophet Jonah. Yet Jonah is not only held in high esteem by Jews and Christians but also by mainstream Muslims. Indeed, the Prophet Muhammed praises Jonah’s righteousness in the Koran.  

Nonetheless, ISIS destroyed this sacred shrine, just as the Taliban had blown up ancient Buddhist monuments in Afghanistan.  Does anyone doubt that given the chance, ISIS would blow up the Tomb of the Patriarchs and Matriarchs in Hebron, or even the Western Wall, the Temple Mount and the Christian holy sites in Jerusalem itself?

If you doubt it, read what the Washington Post published on the destruction of religious artifacts in a piece on July 30. Loveday Morris reported that the day after the destruction of Jonah’s Tomb, “the mosques and shrines of the prophets Seth and George were also destroyed. Axel Plathe, the Iraq representative for the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), described the actions as ‘deliberate and systematic destruction’ on a scale never seen before in Iraq’s modern history.”

Yet as world condemnation rages against Israel, it is curious how eerily silent much of the Christian world has been as their fellow Christians are being so egregiously threatened by ISIS with conversion, taxes, deportation or death.

Where, for instance, is the ire of the Presbyterian Church (USA)? A majority of its national delegates voted to support boycotts, divestments and sanctions against Israel — which is highly protective of Christian holy sites,  practices and artifacts — but seem practically mute about atrocities against Christians from ISIS, Hamas, the Muslim Brotherhood, or, for that matter, within the entire region?

As easily the most religiously democratic state in the Middle East — an oasis of diversity in a desert of religious oppression — Israel is held to the highest possible standard regarding religious practice.

ISIS, Hamas and other intolerant and radical elements, on the other hand, continue to engulf the region with religious and cultural persecution, discrimination, destruction and loss of life, often with scant world comment.

If you care to debate these points with us, we’re happy to entertain letters, emails, calls, texts and social media postings. Bring ‘em on. 

But we just want to make sure you’re aware that if you try to debate these matters with ISIS, Hamas or other fundamentalist groups, it won’t be your speech that will get cut off.

It will be your tongue. Or your head.